Pietro got up, put on his slippers and went to have a pee.
In the bathroom it was freezing. Steam came out of his mouth. While he was peeing, he rubbed his hand over the wet window and looked out.
What foul weather.
The sky was covered with a uniform mass of clouds which loured over the sodden countryside.
Whenever it rained hard, Pietro would catch the yellow school bus. The stop was about a kilometre away (it didn’t come to the house, because the road was too badly rutted). Sometimes his father gave him a lift, but usually he walked, sheltering under his umbrella. If the rain wasn’t hard, he would put on his yellow cape and galoshes and go by bike.
His mother was already in the kitchen.
There was a clanking of pans and a smell of fried onions.
Zagor was barking.
He looked out of the window.
His father, hidden under his rainproof cape, was in the dog’s enclosure, fetching the bags of cement heaped up near the kennel. Zagor, on his chain, was whining and flattening down in the mud and trying to attract his attention.
Shall I tell him?
His father ignored the animal, as if it didn’t exist. He would pick up a bag, hoist it on his shoulder and then, head down, throw it on the trailer of the tractor and start all over again.
Should he tell him? Tell him everything, tell him they’d forced him to break into the school?
(Excuse me, Papa, I’ve got something to tell you, last night …)
He had a feeling his father wouldn’t understand and would be angry. Furious, in fact.
(Won’t it be even worse if he finds out later?)
But it wasn’t my fault.
He gave his willy a vigorous shake and hurried back to his room.
He must stop thinking it wasn’t his fault. It didn’t change anything, in fact it only made things more difficult. He must stop thinking about school. He must sleep.
‘Oh God, what a mess,’ he whispered, and leaped back up into his warm bed.
The Washing Machine
It was a strange business, guilt.
Pietro still hadn’t figured out how it worked.
Everywhere – at school, in Italy, all over the world – if you make a mistake, if you do something you shouldn’t do, something naughty, then you’re guilty and you get punished.
Justice should mean that everyone pays for his own misdeeds. But that wasn’t how it worked in his family.
Pietro had learned this at a very early age.
Guilt, in his home, crashed down from the sky like a meteorite. Sometimes – often, in fact – it fell on you. At other times, by sheer luck, you managed to avoid it.
It was a lottery, in other words.
And it all depended on what mood Papa was in.
If he was in a good mood, you might have done something really terrible, yet nothing would happen to you, but if he was in a bad mood (and this was becoming more and more common) even an air crash in Barbados or a successful coup in the Congo was your fault.
In the spring Mimmo had broken the washing machine.
‘Stonewashed’, he had read on the label of Patti’s jeans. He liked those trousers very much. His girlfriend had explained to him that the reason they were so nice was that they were literally washed with stones. Stones could make jeans white and soft. Mimmo hadn’t wasted much time thinking about it, he’d filled a bucket with stones and emptied it into the washing machine along with his jeans and half a litre of bleach.
Result: both the jeans and the drum of the washing machine were a write-off.
When Mr Moroni had found out, he’d nearly had a fit. ‘How is it possible that I have such a boneheaded son? It’s difficult to be so unlucky,’ he had roared, thumping his chest, and then he had blamed his wife’s genetic inheritance for flooding her children with idiocy.
He had called customer service and the day the technician was to come coincided with the one when he had to take his wife to a doctor’s appointment in Civitavecchia, so he had said to Pietro: ‘Now, I want you to stay at home. Show the technician where the washing machine is. He’ll take it away. Your mother and I will be back this evening. Whatever you do, don’t go out.’
And Pietro had stayed quietly at home, done all his homework and at five thirty on the dot had sat down in front of the television to watch Star Trek.
Then his brother had arrived with Patti and they too had sat down to watch Star Trek.
But Mimmo had no intention of following the adventures of Captain Kirk and co. It was rare for his mother to leave the house and he meant to seize his chance. He squeezed and groped his girlfriend like an octopus on heat.
But Patrizia wriggled away and slapped his hands and snorted. ‘Leave me alone, don’t touch me. Stop it, will you?’
‘What’s the matter? Why don’t you want to? Have you got your period?’ Mimmo had whispered in her ear and then tried to explore it with the tip of his tongue.
Patrizia had jumped to her feet and pointed at Pietro. ‘You know perfectly well why. Your brother’s here. It’s as simple as that. He’s always hanging around … He’s a pest, he gawps at us … He spies on us. Get rid of him.’
This wasn’t true.
The only thing Pietro was interested in was what had happened to Mr Spock, nothing was further from his mind than watching those two necking and pawing at each other.
The truth was different. Patti was angry with Pietro. She was jealous. The two brothers stuck together and joked too much for her liking and Patrizia, on principle, was jealous of anyone who had too close a relationship with her boyfriend.
‘Can’t you see? He’s watching TV …’ Mimmo had replied.
‘Get rid of him. Otherwise, forget it.’
Mimmo had gone over to Pietro. ‘Why don’t you go and play outside? Go for a ride on your bike.’ And then he had tried a little ruse. ‘I’ve already seen this episode, it’s rubbish.’
‘I like it …’ Pietro had retorted.
Mimmo had wandered dispiritedly round the room searching for a solution and at last had found one. Simple. Put his parents’ two beds together to make a double.
‘What time are Mama and Papa coming back?’ he’d asked Pietro.
‘They’ve gone to the doctor’s. About eight thirty, nine. Late. I don’t know.’
‘Great. Come on, let’s go.’ Mimmo had grabbed Patti by the hand and tried to yank her away. But it was no good. She wouldn’t budge.
‘No way. I’m not coming. Not with that pest in the house.’
Mimmo had then played his last ace. With a show of generosity, he had taken ten thousand lire from his wallet and had told Pietro to go and buy him some cigarettes. ‘… and you can keep the change. Buy yourself a nice ice cream and have a couple of games in the arcade.’
‘I can’t. Papa said I’ve got to stay at home. I’ve got to wait for the washing machine man,’ Pietro had answered solemnly. ‘He’ll be cross if I go out.’
‘Don’t worry about that. I’ll see to it. I’ll show him the washing machine. You go and get the cigarettes.’
‘But … but … Papa’ll be cross. I don’t …’
‘Get out. Vamoose.’ Mimmo had put the money in his trouser pocket and shoved him out of the house.
Naturally everything goes as badly as it possibly could go.
Pietro dashes off to the village, and on the way there meets Gloria who is on her way to a riding lesson and implores him to go with her and he, as usual, lets himself be talked into it. Meanwhile the Rex repair man arrives. He finds the cottage door shut and rings the bell but Mimmo can’t hear, he is fighting a ferocious battle with Patti’s elasticated trousers (she, perfidious girl, does hear but keeps quiet). The repair man goes away. At seven thirty, an hour earlier than expected, Mr Moroni and wife park the Panda in the yard.
Mario Moroni gets out of the car in a filthy mood because he has spent three hundred and ninety thousand five hundred lire
on neuro-crap for his wife and, shouting ‘it won’t do you a blind bit of good, all it’ll do is fuck you up completely and put more money into the pockets of a bunch of conmen,’ goes into the storeroom and discovers that the washing machine is still there. He goes upstairs. No sign of Pietro. He feels his hands grow suddenly warm and itchy as if he had nettle rash and his bladder is exploding, so he rushes upstairs (he’s been dying for a pee ever since he left Civitavecchia), pulls out his pecker in the corridor, opens the toilet door and gapes.
Sitting on the toilet is …
… that little tart Patrizia!
Her hair is wet and she is wearing his blue bathrobe and painting her toenails with red varnish, but when she sees him with his penis sticking out of his fly she starts screaming and yelling as if he were trying to rape her. Mr Moroni puts his penis back in his trousers and slams the toilet door so hard that a large piece of plaster is dislodged from the wall and falls on the floor. As wild as a warthog, he brings down his fist on the mahogany sideboard like a hammer on an anvil, splitting it in two. He breaks a couple of bones in his hand. He stifles a howl of agony and goes to seek out Mimmo in his room.
Mimmo isn’t there.
He opens the door of HIS room and finds him sprawling on HIS bed, snoring away contentedly, stark naked, looking serene and satisfied, like a little angel who has just been the recipient of a blow job.
They’ve been scr … screwing on on my bed you you fucking little bastard respect no respect fucking little whore I’ll teach you some respect I’ll kill you I swear it respect a lesson you’ll remember for the rest of your life I’ll teach you some manners.
A primitive, brutal fury, hidden in the most ancient sites of his DNA, reawakens with a roar, a blind rage that demands immediate release.
I’ll kill him I swear it I’ll kill him I’ll go to jail I’ll go to jail I don’t give a fuck I’ll stay there for the rest of my life better much better I don’t give a damn I’m tired shit shit shit I can’t stand any mooooooore.
Fortunately he manages to control himself and grabs his son by the ear. Mimmo wakes up and starts wailing like a banshee. He tries to free himself from the vice-like grip that is clamped on his ear. To no avail. His father drags him out into the corridor shouting obscenities and gives him a kick with the sole of his foot and Mimmo goes careering down the stairs and succeeds, he doesn’t know how, a miracle perhaps, in remaining on his feet all the way down but on the last step he trips, cruelly bad luck, and twists his ankle and collapses on the ground, gets up again and dragging his leg, rushes out of the house, naked and aching all over, into the countryside. Mr Moroni runs after him, goes out onto the front steps and roars. ‘Don’t you ever show your face here again. If you come back I’ll break every bone in your body. I swear I will, so help me Mary Madonna. Don’t ever show your face here again. Don’t ever show your face or …’ He goes back into the house and his hands are still itching and he hears behind him a stifled moan, a whimper. He turns.
She is sitting there by the fire, hands over her face, crying. That stupid woman is sitting there by the fire, snivelling and sniffing. That’s all she does. Cries and sniffs.
Oh yes well done that’s the only thing you can do isn’t it cry your fucking eyes out that’s how you’ve brought your kids up isn’t it that’s what you are a pathetic little fool and I have to do everything and pay because you do nothing but cry and cry … pathetic little doped-up fool.
‘Why? What’s he done?’ sobs Mrs Moroni, her face hidden in her hands.
‘What’s he done? You want to know what he’s done? He’s been screwing in our bedroom! In our bedroom, for God’s sake! Now I’m going upstairs and I’m going to throw that little slut out …’ He heads for the staircase but Mrs Moroni runs after him, clutches his arm.
‘Mario, wait, wai …’
‘Let go of my arm!’
And he hits her across the mouth with the back of his hand.
How can I convey to you the sensation of being on the receiving end of a backhander from Mr Moroni? Well, it’s a bit like getting a smack in the teeth from Mats Wilander’s racket.
His wife crumples like an inflatable doll that has been sliced in two and lies there.
And just at that moment who should enter the house?
Pietro, happy because he has just ridden Princess all round the paddock on his own and then helped Gloria to wash her down with soap and a brush. Pietro, who has run to buy the MS Lights for his brother. Pietro, who hasn’t had an ice cream but has put aside five thousand lire towards a catfish he’s seen in the petshop in Orbano.
‘The ciga …’ The sentence remains unfinished.
‘Ah, there you are at last, young man. Have we had a good time? Have we been enjoying ourselves? Been for a nice walk, have we?’ his father sneers.
Pietro takes in the scene. His father with his shirt untucked. Hair unkempt, face flushed, eyes glistening, the clown picture on the floor, the chair overturned and, behind, a kind of bundle. A bundle with his mother’s legs and his mother’s outdoor shoes.
‘Mama! Mama!’ Pietro runs towards her, but his father grabs him by the scruff of the neck, lifts him in the air and whirls him round and it seems as if he is going to hurl him against a wall and Pietro screams, kicks, wriggles like an electric toy that has short-circuited, trying to get free, but his father’s grip is firm, secure, holds him fast like a lamb that is about to be slaughtered.
Mr Moroni kicks open the front door and goes down the steps while Pietro struggles in vain to free himself, carries him into the storeroom and stands him on the floor.
In front of the washing machine.
Pietro is in floods of tears, his features distorted and his mouth open as wide as an oven door.
‘What’s that there?’ asks his father, but the boy can’t answer, he is crying too much.
‘What’s that there?’ His father seizes him by the arm and shakes him.
Pietro is red in the face. He can’t breathe, he gasps desperately for air.
‘What’s that there?’ he smacks him hard on the back of the head, then seeing how he wheezes he sits down on the stool, closes his eyes and starts to massage his temples slowly.
He’ll get over it, no one has ever died of crying.
Again. ‘What’s this thing here?’
Pietro sobs and doesn’t answer. His father smacks him again, less hard this time.
‘Well? Are you going to answer me? What’s this thing here?’
And at last Pietro manages to blurt out, between his sobs: ‘Hhha wahh sh shing mma sh sh shine Hha wahh sshing mma …’
‘Correct. And what’s it doing here?’
‘It isn’t it isn’t my my fault. I didn’t wa wa want to go out. Mimmo Mimmo … told me … It isn’t isn’t my fault.’ Pietro bursts into tears again.
‘Now listen to me. You’re wrong. It is your fault, do you hear?’ says Mr Moroni, suddenly calm and didactic.’ It is your fault. What did I tell you to do? Stay at home. And you went out …’
‘No buts. Any sentence beginning with but is wrong from the outset. If you hadn’t listened to your brother and you’d stayed at home as I told you to, none of this would have happened. The repair man would have taken away the washing machine, you brother wouldn’t have done what he did, and nothing would have happened to your mother. Whose fault is it, then?’
Pietro is silent for a moment, then turns his big hazel eyes, now bloodshot and glistening, into his father’s icy gaze and sighs:
‘Say it again.’
‘Good. Now run along and see how your mama is. I’m going to the club.’
Mr Moroni tucks his shirt into his trousers, smooths down his hair, puts on his old working jacket and is on the point of leaving when he turns round. ‘Pietro, remember one thing, the first rule in life is to accept your own responsibilities. Do you understand?�
‘Yes, I understand.’
Five hours later, at midnight, the cyclone of violence that had descended on Fig-Tree Cottage has blown over.
Everyone is asleep.
Mrs Moroni is curled up in a corner of her bed, with a swollen lip. Mr Moroni is lying on the other bed, deep in a dreamless alcoholic sleep. He is snoring like a pig with his bandaged right hand resting on the bedside table. Mimmo is asleep downstairs in the garage, hidden among the tractor tyres, in an old moth-eaten sleeping bag. Patti, a few kilometres away, is asleep with her long legs covered in sticking plaster. She scratched them in making her escape through the toilet window. She grabbed hold of the drainpipe but slipped and fell into a mass of rambling roses.
The only person who is not yet asleep, but is on the point of dropping off, is Pietro. His eyes are closed.
How he cried!
His mother had to cuddle him and rock him in her arms as she used to when he was a baby, and repeat to him, despite the blood trickling down onto her chin: ‘There, there, it’s all over, it’s all over, it’s all right now. Don’t cry now, there’s a good boy. You know what your father’s like …’
But now Pietro feels good.
As if he’s had a long walk which has drained all his strength. Limbs relaxed. Feet clasping the hot water bottle. He keeps murmuring as if it were a lullaby, ‘It wasn’t my fault it wasn’t my fault it wasn’t …’
The Moroni family was rather like those South Sea islanders who live in a state of perpetual apprehension, ready to abandon the village as soon as they recognise in the sky the premonitory signs of a hurricane. Then they run away to shelter in caves and let the forces of nature unleash themselves. They know the storm will be violent but brief. When it’s over, they return to their huts and patiently, philosophically, put back together again the few planks of wood that serve to cover their heads.
At six o’clock in the morning a scarecrow disguised as Graziano Biglia was sitting in a corner of the Station Bar. Slumped forward, forehead propped on his fist. In front of him, a cold cappuccino which he had no intention of drinking.